Mitchell’s annual Corn Palace Festival is known for big crowds, fun rides and booming music, but brief periods of rain and storms forced most of the record-setting festival’s events to take a quick pause Saturday.

Scattered thunderstorms producing lightning and thunder clipped Mitchell this weekend, forcing carnival rides and outdoor entertainment to halt and led some vendors to shut up their stands. As the rain came on, Main Street quickly emptied, as festivalgoers flocked inside or under the nearest cover in an attempt to stay dry.

Doug Greenway, the director of the Corn Palace and its festival, was on Main Street when the rain began, and said that all the rain did was give people a short break.

“It seemed to me that people were under the awnings eating lunch,” Greenway said. “I don’t think it dampened spirits; I think it just cleared the streets for a while.”

Festival goers wait out the rain under cover at the Corn Palace Festival on Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. (Hunter Dunteman / Mitchell Republic)
Festival goers wait out the rain under cover at the Corn Palace Festival on Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. (Hunter Dunteman / Mitchell Republic)

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The thunderstorms quickly moved east, leaving behind a beaming sun and high humidity as the festivities on Main Street resumed.

This year’s Corn Palace Festival was only Greenway’s second since he took over as Corn Palace director in 2019, but he believes attendance may have been the best in the event’s history for a variety of reasons.

“Based on our numbers so far, we think that our visitor numbers are record numbers,” Greenway said. “We’ve seen record numbers from the Convention and Visitors Bureau in sales and tourism in 2021 over 2019.”

Greenway said one indicator of the rebound in attendance from a pandemic-related dip in 2020 was the fact that the Corn Palace’s ATM ran out of cash.

Big names in the concert lineup and a “full slate” of rides from Gold Star Amusement contributed to high attendance. According to Greenway, sales for three ticketed concerts tallied over 3,700, and he feels that wristband sales fared very well for carnival rides.

“Everyone that attended the shows have been very pleased,” Greenway said. “There was not one person disappointed in the entertainment Friday night. I can’t even tell you how many people said ‘great show, thanks for bringing (live music) back.’”

Greenway said that Saturday’s weather conditions demonstrated the importance of having indoor options to keep festivalgoers occupied, highlighting the versatility of the festival’s facilities.

“I’ve been to the festival many times, and yes, there’s been severe weather. They’ve had to stop shows — anything on a stage outdoors,” Greenway said. “We did that, we stopped all the electronic stuff. That’s the advantage of an indoor venue for concerts.”

Each year better than the last

Though this year is purported to be one of the Corn Palace Festival’s best, the festival’s board is always examining feedback and pondering how to make the next year even better.

Improvements from 2020 included a realignment of what areas of downtown will be blocked off to maximize the fun while minimizing the disruption to traffic and business. The festival also relocated vendors and barriers to allow more visibility to businesses located among the road closures.

“We want to be good neighbors at the Corn Palace,” Greenway said. “We really wanted to allow our neighbors to see our (business’) front doors.”

The festival’s board has a few questions to answer regarding the 2022 event — most notably regarding the location.

“A number of people would prefer the festival be down between first and seventh again,” Greenway said. “We’re going to evaluate that to see if the festival rides can move back downtown.”

Scenes from the Corn Palace Festival on Thursday, August 26, 2021 in downtown Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Mitchell Republic)
Scenes from the Corn Palace Festival on Thursday, August 26, 2021 in downtown Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Mitchell Republic)

Before the decision for next year can be made, however, Greenway said everyone working on the festival — whether they’re staff, volunteers or city employees — will get a much needed break.

“It is a big interruption to our city and I really appreciate the city staff and the citizens for their hard work and patience,” Greenway said.

Next year's Corn Palace Festival will run Wednesday, Aug. 24 through Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022.